“Cassandro, the Exotico!”

Behind the Mask

Amos Lassen

We get an intimate glance behind the wrestler’s mask in the documentary, “Cassandro, the Exotico!” a 73-minute film that follows the flamboyant and talented professional wrestler, Cassandro (birth name Saul Armendariz). Cassandro is American-born to Mexican immigrants and grew up between El Paso, Texas and his family’s homeland near Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. He knew that he was gay at an early age and gravitated toward the flash and the glam surrounding professional wrestling  in particularly the muscular men with larger than life personalities and who wore brightly colored spandex.

Now after 27 years on the professional and independent circuits, Cassandro takes the filmmakers on a journey through his bumpy career, one with both physical and mental scars alike. Beginning his career as a villain, Cassandro has reinvented his ring character a handful of times, as is common in Lucha Libre (professional wrestling). He was inspired to take on the role of an exotico by the famous luchador, Baby Sharon.

Traditionally, exoticos were known as cross-dressing gay caricatures played by straight men. Cassandro and Baby Sharon, however, are noted for being the first gay men to play gay characters in Lucha Libre. This was a rather controversial path to take in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but one that paid off greatly in affording Cassandro not only a career, but an opportunity to put himself in his work.

The film is made up of archive footage that gives a lot  of dream-like nostalgia as Cassandro takes out his opponents one-by-one. Complete with lavish dress and feathered hair, Cassandro is recognized as the “Liberace of Lucha Libre” and has quickly climbed the ranks of popularity in the sport. We get an unfiltered behind the scenes look at the life of the man behind Cassandro. We see his modest home full of memorabilia of the glory days, family photos that show us that the family was in the church pew on Sunday mornings and ringside Sunday nights.

We see the often deflating, two-sided life of professional wrestling. On one side is the luchador persona, wagering his hair in countless matches and taking home a championship belt – a moment that inspired many gay wrestlers who followed in his footsteps. Yet, on the other side is the life of Saul Armendariz, nursing a headache and counting the scars of his numerous ACL tears, rotator cuff surgeries, cuts, and bite wounds, while taking in a game of football in his bath robe. Filmmaker Marie Losier is careful to provide a balanced view, and still manages to let a flash of Cassandro shine through in Saul, even right up to the moment when the 40-something champion decides it may perhaps be time to finally say goodbye to the sport that he loves.

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